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The Brand Dashboard: Bringing Conversations to Life

Perhaps the most difficult aspects of Social Media to embrace are the changes in our behavior and overall philosophy it necessitates in order to earn relevance and ultimately prominence in consumer hearts, minds, and markets.

Simply put, Social Media makes us vulnerable and officially ends an era of perceived control threaded by the illusion of invincibility.

Everything we thought we knew and valued is now in dire need of reassessment. We are entering into a time when we are affected by voiced sentiment in the public spotlight and backchannels of the social Web. What we hear, see and observe can and should touch us.

Businesses are now responsible for not only delivering beneficial products and services, but poignant, personalized, and aspirational experiences as well. This is true today and tomorrow as we compete for the future that is revealed through the actions and words of the people we wish to reach and inspire.

In Social Media, We are All Brand Managers

The process of evaluating, measuring, and defining brand stature was once relegated to a brand manager, expert, or team and shaped by a top-down process of activities designed to reinforce the message and personae. Now however, the brand is the direct responsibility of each person representing it, individually and collectively. When we listen to the activity that populates the statusphere and the blogosphere, we find that in addition to the overall brand, conversations map specifically to the individual departments that define the business foundation, which ultimately supports brand stature and resonance. In turn, these activities inspire immediate and long-term responses either directly through focused interaction or indirectly through product refinement, adaptation and overall messaging, targeting, and positioning.

Individual representatives indeed contribute to the collective repository of brand value and perception through distinct engagement and contributions while also assessing and embracing themes and trends to move the business in a more meaningful direction altogether.

No One Group Owns Social Media

Whether social media management and engagement is centralized, distributed or community powered, the sum is always greater than its parts. Individually and collectively, we contribute to the cycle of customer acquisition, retention, loyalty, and influence as dictated by market behavior and the direction that these influencers dictate implicitly or explicitly.

Among others, online dialogue connects consumers, influencers, and prospects to brand ambassadors representing…

– Sales
– Product
– Service/Support
– HR
– Partners (Value/Design Chain)
– Marketing
– Communications
– Finance

In many ways, we become social seismologists, monitoring and measuring the human seismograph as it triggers activity that affects us both positively and negatively. As actions speak louder than words, we must put our words into action. And, part of acting is reacting whether it’s through conversations, change and evolution, or a fusion of participation and modification. By engaging we learn how to diffuse situations, empower communities and more importantly, how to discover and embrace new ideas that beget prominence.

The Brand Dashboard

Much in the same way we compete for attention through the frequency and volume of appearances in the consumer attention dashboard, brand representatives track brand health, risks, and opportunities through a dedicated brand dashboard. And, almost every division will have a person or team dedicated to orchestration of their respective social activity. These socially-tuned tools allow for customized search, reporting, and analysis across multiple social properties, revealing market intelligence in real-time and charting our next steps to stay connected and relevant. These dashboards radically improve the rate in which each team within the organization learns, reacts, and adjusts, delivering pertinent solutions, information, and products/services in the process.

If we evaluated conversations on Twitter for example, we could examine activity through the lenses of distinct branches of the business (click the image for a larger version).

There are many solutions to consider including PRNewswire’s Social Media Metrics, Radian6, Techrigy, among many others. For the sake of this discussion, I’ll highlight free tools to maintain a balance while demonstrating possibilities. In this case, we’re tracking “iPad” in Twitter, but we could use the aforementioned services to track activity across the entire Web.

Using TweetDeck or Seesmic, for example, we can track the product/brand (column 1), which represents the information stream that benefits the community manager or the person responsible for trafficking conversations in an sCRM or SRM workflow. This column or columns will feature keywords that include the brand, products, market-related topics as well as competitors (column 2).  In addition to a community manager, column 1 is also important to customer service to identify potential issues and directly respond where applicable and also document discrete issues that can expedite fixes or resolution.

Column 1 also benefits the brand team as conversations allow for brand managers to analyze the composition and collection of important words used in conjunction with the brand to gauge success, failure, and areas for improvement (see below).

In addition, the combination of columns 1 and 2 impact marketing and communications (as well as IR/finance) professionals who can also benefit from the ability to assess influencer activity, facilitate rapid research to build target lists based on keywords, and dictate participation/response programs when and where necessary – all in real-time.

Columns #2, 3 and 4 are designed to monitor and measure potential or existing sales and the invaluable feedback that will define our immediate and future revenue landscape. This research allows us to materialize invaluable information tied to lead generation, loyalty, and revenue.

Here, we’re tracking our keywords in conjunction with other keywords that reveal the state of potential transactions. In this case, and really just for a simple example, you can see the dialogue around competition in addition to conversations that feature a combination of our keyword plus other verbs that surface intention, (iPad) + “buy” and  “thinking+about” + “buying.” When fused with word clouds, we can grasp a greater awareness for opportunities to shape sales activity.

If we hone in on keyword combinations that reflect referrals and recommendations, we can discover activity related to assessing the value of the Net Promoter Score (NPS), customer referrals, community advocacy, and word of mouth. In addition, we can also peel back the layers that historically prevented us from realizing emotion as shared with peers. Adding words to our fixed keyword searched such as “love,” “hate,” “sucks or sux,” “want,” and “fail” creates a bridge between impressions and the specific instances and people behind the words. This process is critical in the earning of empathy in order to champion meaningful responses and more importantly, change.

For example, from a recent discussion with Richard Binhammer of Dell while attending Le Web in Paris, Dell actively monitors for compatibility issues with other products to initiate fixes before they amass into critical issues en masse. This dramatically decreases the time to market from ID’ing the problem to offering a solution, many times, well in advance of the masses ever knowing a problem ever existed.

To What Extent…

Custom feeds stemming from keyword searches can represent much more than referral and loyalty value of our customers however. They can also paint a picture of experiences and sentiment to engender opportunities to ensure satisfaction. Exporting feeds or text from your dashboard into a system such as Wordle, we can see conversations and associated opinions in one cloud. Tip: Using Searchtastic, as one option, you can export tweets directly to Excel for review and organization.

Understanding sentiment and trends at a high level is important when understanding the state of consumer satisfaction online. We can review samples of reactions across multiple networks in order to identify communities of relevance and as such, prioritize our attention and activity – and to what extent. This real world and suggestive information also sparks ideation and hopefully innovation within to inspire significance outside.

Using one of the many available tools such as Twitter Sentiment and Trendistic, sentiment and trends anchored to keywords become visible. And, when combined with word clouds, doors representing new possibilities unlock.

For a deeper view into the conversations contributing to the sentiment outlines, solutions such as by PeopleBrowsr offer real-time dives into positive, neutral, and negative conversations in the form of management-ready reports.

For representatives across the organization, these reports (from PeopleBrowsr and other service providers) deliver the intelligence necessary to take action. And, therein lies one of the greater challenges facing social media champions today. Change is only possible where potential for improvement is recognized.

Organizations must have an infrastructure in place to support a clear and present path that channels insight from the outside to the center and back out again as we earn relevance, trust, and loyalty among influencers, customers, peers, and prospects. Defining a workflow that unites brand representatives to streamline the system for identification, prioritization, assignment, and follow up of important instances will ensure structure and organization around a formal process. A workflow also connects ideas and trends to change agents, product architects, and decision makers and those who can transform words into action. It’s how businesses will survive this ongoing (r)evolution of Social Darwinism.

Monitoring keywords across various departments is only part of the equation. Measuring activity that hits designated landing pages completes the chain of connectedness. All experiences must have a beginning and an end and if we’re not providing direction that leads to decisive action, then we essentially send our prospects from a very interactive and dynamic environment to a static dead-end. Read: If you think that sending people to your corporate website is a means to an end, think again. Chances are, your is in desperate need of focus; most likely a complete social makeover is overdue.

In the now web, it is our job to define the experience. Many brands find success in the implementation of dedicated landing pages that extend social engagement while still channeling visitors into a rich hub of information and action. If participation and engagement represent the point of introduction, then the landing page is the beginning of the end. And as one thing ends, something new begins.

However, without insight into the activity in and around the LP, we are blind in our direction.

Our influence lies in our ability to elicit action and in turn, measure it.

The social Web is an incredible conductor to fusing action and metrics to measure the cost per action (CPA).

Information is the concrete in which we build the foundations for interaction, service, direction, and commerce.

Integrating a mechanism for measuring activity on that landing page allows those responsible for defining experiences and engendering change, not necessarily the Web team or Web master. We’re empowered, and required, to analyze the results of our activity. Here, we can ascertain our top referrers, our highest converting words, as well as costs per action, click and overall cost of acquisition.

There’s what we say and then there’s what they say…which carries greater weight?

If we’re not listening, observing, and learning from the world around us, we lose touch with those who dictate the perception, reputation, and direction of our brand.

In the end, we earn the relationships we deserve.

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google Buzz, Facebook

Please consider reading my brand new book, Engage!

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96 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The Brand Dashboard: Bringing Conversations to Life”

  1. Very interesting Brian. In today's rapidly changing and democratized world of PR and consumer voice, it's important for brands to be smart about the moves they make, monitor the results of the moves they make, and make sure they're changing with the world…not pushing against the change as so many companies are still doing. Great summary

  2. Adam Helweh says:

    Always chock full of great stuff. Thanks Brian for sharing so much.

  3. Jeff Brown says:

    Excellent insights as always Brian. Appreciate the thoroughness of this post.

  4. Bill Handy says:

    Brian, great post and glad you provided the depth you did. A few personal observations regarding dashboards: First, for those interested in creating/purchasing a system, you don't need to bring a hand grenade to a gunfight. When expand your research to multiple platforms you don't always have to expend a lot of cash. With a little ingenuity, creating a dashboard can be as simply as aggregating search feeds into a personalized netvibes page. For something with a little more umph I would suggest adding yahoo pipes to the mix or any number of open source tools.

    Second, and you elude to this, don't always trust the data as it is presented. Any good researcher knows you must look at data from a number of different angles before it might truly reveal significance. When looking at issues beyond the simple request/response you sometimes need more than what a text cloud can offer (although I love text clouds). Instead you need true analysis – cross tabs, longitudinal analysis, benchmarking, external influence analysis, etc. I would also add that a broad scale approach across multiple sites provides a more true representation for analysis than simply monitoring any single platform, especially Twitter, can provide a myopic representation as we have seen in the past.

    Bottom line, use of a dashboard may be one of the only tools which generates any true value from the enormous amount of data which is expelled every day.

  5. lolbsolis1 says:

    Brian – another comprehensive analysis. Thank you!!

    UX – you nailed it. We will have to measure real time user experience, with emotional, rational, and behavioral metrics to help monitor, and optimize brand equity building initiatives. The challenge is in dealing with the inevitable failures, in times of exponentially reduced “reaction time”. Hence the need for automation, and dashboards, and of course an inclusive SM policy, efficient Enterprise2.0 integration, and a fundamental shift in the most important “construct” – culture.

    One issue with most of these monitoring, and measurement tools, is the lack of a 360 degree view. I am really looking forward to the Social Intelligence Engine from @socialtality ( They seem to have a models that synchronizes offline and online behavior, including predictive modeling.


  6. Bill Rylance says:

    Immensely insightful, Brian, thanks. Your post is a traverse across very complex terrain. It will be new landscape to many people and, therefore, quite intimidating. We have to find simple plain-spoken ways – perhaps through metaphors, analogies, day-in-the-life stories – to help people grasp the significance and understand that much of this is no more than a technology-enabled expansion of normal human behavior and interaction; for companies, that's especially critical because it starts with listening before selling. Walk the Talk!

  7. Bill Rylance says:

    Immensely insightful, Brian, thanks. Your post is a traverse across very complex terrain. It will be new landscape to many people and, therefore, quite intimidating. We have to find simple plain-spoken ways – perhaps through metaphors, analogies, day-in-the-life stories – to help people grasp the significance and understand that much of this is no more than a technology-enabled expansion of normal human behavior and interaction; for companies, that's especially critical because it starts with listening before selling. Walk the Talk!

  8. Akash Sharma says:

    Brilliant information Brian, The stats, the tools everything which you have shared here are super relevant. As you say we are all brand managers now because if a customer wants a solution he/she does not care where the answer comes from the PR staff or the support guys they just want it to be solved.

    But for this it is important to engage everyone throughout the firm to a core belief and giving them all the tools to make the learning more effective and easier and yes The change stuff the toughest thing; it can only be achieved by regular listening to all the customer queries and developing great products and services on the basis of their feedback.

    Thanks for all the cool info!!

  9. Barry Dewar says:

    Thanks Brian, a brilliant post. Full of genuinely thorough insights. I've learnt a great deal but would echo previous sentiments about any dashboard being broadened out to include more SM sites. This brings it's own problems given that the basis of the relationships is very different in, say, Facebook and Twitter, but applying a little bit of logic would still yield useful results.

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